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Here's How to Tell the Deals From the Duds at a Dollar Store

Despite their name, 99-cent stores can offer great deals on items like coloring books, notepads, stocking stuffers, baby clothes, soap, and so on.

"The biggest misconception about dollar stores is that they only have junk that no one needs and everything is low quality," says Andrew Schrage of MoneyCrashers, an investment website.

There's too much competition for them not to offer similar products to general stores.

But watch out: Some products should only be bought at a general store. Read through to see if you can guess what's a deal and a dud at the 99-cent store.

DEAL: Pet Toys

Pet toys can stand to get beaten (and eaten) up since they're so cheap, and the store usually has a great selection.

NO DEAL: Batteries and Other Electronics

Some stores sell "gray goods," or products made for a foreign market. Oftentimes they fail to comply with U.S. regulations and as a result, they can be dangerous.

Batteries can be prone to leakage and fail to last as long as name-brand batteries. This means you'll spend more on replacements.

Also be forewarned that some UL labels on electronics and extension cords may say they're U.S. approved when they aren't.

NO DEAL: Domestic Fire Products

Lighters, tiki torches, barbecue makers, and outdoor candles should never be bought from a dollar store. If you do, you might find your house go up in flames like a Hawaiian-themed barbecue.

DEAL: Cookware

Dollar stores stock lots of basic cooking supplies, including pots, pans, spatulas, ice cream scoopers, cheese graters and oven mitts.

You'll save 50 to 90 percent on items, compared to prices at Target, but sometimes these kits will be really dirty, missing pieces, or just flat-out broken. Check to make sure.

NO DEAL: Groceries

Whatever amount you might save isn't worth the risk of eating counterfeit products or food made for international destinations that haven't been U.S. approved.

The merchandise may be also expired: Food-carrying containers sit outside for long periods of time, and temperature changes spoils the food, Terri Gault, founder of TheGroceryGame.com, tells MainStreet.

In terms of pricing, grocery stores offer better deals, especially with pre-packaged baking goods and generics. The big box stores are even cheaper when they're having a sale or giving out coupons.

DEAL: Cleaning Supplies

Buy these, especially items like mops, rubber gloves, or sponges. They're the same as what you'd get at the grocery store, just cheaper.

You can also go for liquid cleaners, says Schrage, but oftentimes their formula is diluted and leaves residue.

Also think about buying disposable clean-up items like toilet paper and paper towels. Keep in mind, however, that you may want to buy these toiletries in bulk.

DEAL: Greeting Cards

Dollar stores stock up on lots of good, quality cards, which they sell for cheap. A drugstore like Duane Reade will charge $1.40, but the 99-cent store price comes in at about 50 cents.

DEAL: Party Supplies

As with greeting cards, dollar stores always restock party supplies.

Their merchandise tends to be fun and lively, and most importantly, cheap. They carry everything you need, from hats to plastic plates, cups, and utensils.

NO DEAL: Children's Toys

DO NOT buy these at a 99 cents store. 99-cent store toys are made cheaply so you won't want to risk having a piece breaking off in your kid's throat. Same goes for baby products—avoid them.

Items sold in the dollar stores sometimes bypass U.S. approval, which as we pointed out earlier, could mean high levels of lead and other chemicals. Remember those Chinese Mattel dolls?

NO DEAL: Over-the-Counter Medications

Stay away from vitamins, as the amount of nutrients the label claims is probably faulty. Cheap vitamins also don't dissolve quickly enough for your body to absorb them.

Similarly avoid buying aspirin, ibuprofen, and other over-the-counter meds at a 99 cent store. Independently-owned 99-cent stores have been known to counterfeit these products.

"Suppliers digitally alter a label and scan it into a generic bottle or package," Greg Guila, a lawyer specializing in patent law at the firm Duane Morris, tells MainStreet.

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